FAIRBANKS - They met each other last Friday, but they've got 150 miles to get to know each other better.
Two soldiers from Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C., are teaming with two Fort Wainwright soldiers this week to form a last-minute, dark horse team in the first Armed Forces Eco-Challenge.
"We're the underdogs, the step-children," said Tiffany Morse, an Army staff sergeant from Fort Bragg competing in the 150-mile multi-sport endurance race through Alaska wilderness.
Twenty-two military teams with 88 service men and women are entered. The winner will represent the U.S. Armed Forces against 75 international teams in the global Eco-Challenge Expedition Race in New Zealand.
The race was to start at Fort Greely at midnight today. The finish line will be at Quartz Lake about 85 miles south of Fairbanks.
The course has six legs, requiring teams to use skills ranging from orienteering to pack rafting and from canoeing to mountain biking. All team members must start together and finish together. If one member cannot finish, the entire team is disqualified.
Before starting the race, teams are given a package that is only to be opened if they are in danger. The package contains a radio and a global positioning system that will help rescue crews find them. Any team that opens the package is immediately disqualified.
Morse and Capt. Hunter Crandall were alternates for a team of special operations forces out of Fort Bragg.
The two thought they could recruit other alternates to form a team, but after arriving in Fairbanks last week, they realized it wouldn't be possible.
However, a host family hooked them up with Fort Wainwright Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Ott, who jumped at the chance to compete in his second Eco-Challenge. Ott then called 1st Lt. Matthew Mapes, who immediately shelled out $1,000 for a mountain bike to use in the competition.
The Eco-Challenge will test the team's skills and will subject them to sleep deprivation. Because most teams will travel 60 to 70 miles a day, the fastest team may be finished before the third day is over.
The team believes it has an edge in Ott and Mapes. Both have knowledge of the terrain from training.
"We have nothing to lose," Crandall said. "Except for about $4,000."
They'll have 60 days after the race to pay back the $4,000 entry fee, which means they'll need to find sponsors or add to the growing expenses they've had to spend to compete in the race.
"I wouldn't say we're prostitutes, but I'll wear anybody's name," Ott said.